introducing manon van eijsden from voedingsjungle.
Nutritional advice is confusing, overwhelming and frustrating. Today, with the help of the internet, there are thousands of conflicting ‘facts’, self-professed health experts, rapidly changing food trends and magic diets. It’s a lot to wade through and even harder to differentiate between science and hype. In one study, 78% of those surveyed said they had encountered conflicting information about what they should and shouldn’t eat, and whilst 96% of respondents ate food for health benefits, only 45% could identity the food or nutrient that was associated with the benefits they were seeking. This confusion is not only rampant when addressing your own nutrition, but also your children’s.
Voedingsjungle is a clearing in the jungle of children’s nutritional advice. Founded by Manon van Eijsden and Michelle Van Roost, two women that together have over forty years of experience in the field, their mission is to provide parents with clear, concrete nutritional answers backed by the scientific community. Whilst the facts and figures in the academic world may be daunting for the everyday parent, Voedingsjungle translate the ever-growing pile of research into practical, usable information. Manon and Michelle are entrepreneurs and mothers at the same time, and as such, they realize the difficulties of running a business and simultaneously implementing healthy nutrition for their children at home. We talked with Manon about how being a mother helped her business thrive, things she would do differently now and simple ideas for healthy kids at home.
What's your mission with Voedingsjungle?
It’s simple; to help parents provide healthy nutrition for their children. Both directly and indirectly, we work for various companies and organizations in the food & health sector, sharing our knowledge, educating their staff and writing factsheets and brochures and the like. We also help schools and day-care centers implement nutrition policy and advice parents and professionals during workshops.
And what was the reason you and Michelle started Voedingsjungle? Was there a specific moment?
It started really organically. Michelle had a baby eleven or so years ago and when her baby went to a day-care center, she saw how they handled nutrition. She realized there was room for improvement and so she organized an information evening for the parents. She asked me to join because we were friends and I’m a nutritionist. I’ve done a lot of research surrounding nutrition and children, and she’s a food technologist so she thought it would be nice to do together. We have two separate ways of looking at nutrition but have the same goals, and so this evening happened and it was really well received. We got a lot of positive remarks and questions about nutrition and Voedingsjungle started from there. At the same time, we both had more kids of our own, and our friends started asking questions about their kids as well, so it naturally grew in importance for us but also as a business idea.
You’ve been involved with nutrition for over twenty years. Where did your passion for nutrition come from and what do you think you gain from such a long-term engagement with a field?
It started when I was young; I had some problems with my weight as a child so nutrition was always something in the back of my mind. When I finished high school, I didn’t really know what to do so I started looking around and I kind of stumbled into studying nutrition which I quickly realized I loved, and I developed a real passion for it. In terms of what twenty years plus of studying nutrition has given me, I think it’s given me the time to develop an acute sensitivity and perception of the issues involved. I had the time to realize that the underlying mechanisms of nutrition and the messages you hear haven’t actually changed for a long time. But I also learned that there’s so much more than the basic messages, it’s not just about eating vegetables but rather it’s about a balance of lots of factors, and from that I’ve been able to develop myself and my business into something that I believe has real value.
How do you feel both being mothers has helped the business?
We understand how it all works within a family, within a home. It’s easy to say you need to do it this and that, but it’s often difficult for a parent to achieve among the realities of life. We know how difficult it can be and we know what works in one family doesn’t work in another. Michelle’s family works differently to mine and having both of us as mothers have brought that awareness to the business. And we know the science, so combining the right information with the awareness of parents’ situations is what we give to clients, and that’s a big part of why we excel.
You describe children’s nutrition as a jungle of messages. What do you mean by this and what do you think has contributed to this?
You have a lot of research being done in nutrition and that’s led to a lot of people writing on nutrition from varying sources and backgrounds, often not the right ones. You have health gurus all over the internet and there are few checks and balances in place; anyone has the power to write about anything, so a lot of the confusion comes from that. If you have a question about nutrition you can just Google it, and that produces a jungle of messages.
What sets Voedingsjungle apart from the jungle?
We base our information on scientific consensus. We both have academic backgrounds, and we continue to operate in those circles, so our information is from a trusted community. We then take that information and make it accessible to parents. We translate it into usable, practical information. Importantly, we don’t necessarily tell parents what to do, we give them the information and the directions they can go with that information.
Do you think it’s harder to communicate your value and message because what you’re offering is advice?
Sometimes it’s difficult to explain to potential clients why things cost time for us; presentations, brochures, workshops etc. Because there’s so much information out there, some people don’t see why they should be paying us to get something they can get for free on the internet. But there’s a fundamental difference between the information out there and the information that you can and should use. Translating practical, valuable information to our target group is what we do the best, and I believe our results speak for themselves.
Could you talk about the decision to make a book? How does it further your mission?
We wanted to write a book because we noticed a lot of parents had a lot of questions, and we thought a book could be an answer. Our initial idea was that the book would reach the entire population of young parents struggling to feed their kids in a healthy way, but it didn’t work out like that. We realized that to buy the book you have to be interested in reading and in books as a medium of information, so before we even started it was a much smaller group of potential customers.
We now know we can’t reach the entire population of parents with a book, and that’s where other formats of information come into play such as animations and movies that we’re working towards making. But we still wanted to write a book because it’s our vision on healthy nutrition for children. We wanted something physical that would communicate our values and something that would really help people understand what Voedingsjungle is about. What we didn’t anticipate, but are really proud of, is that our book is now often used by health care professionals as it helps them to inform parents about healthy nutrition.
Looking back, what’s one mistake you’ve made whilst running Voedingsjungle?
After a really positive first year in 2017, we wrote our first book during 2018. But because we were focusing so much on the book, other areas of the business slumped. We were putting too much focus, time and energy into the book at the expense of the actual business. We were massively overstretched. We’ve learned from that, and whilst we’re actually writing our second book, we’re doing things in a much more considered way that balances the needs of the business with our desires for these more idealized projects.
What are three things people can start implementing today in relation to improving their children's nutrition?
Firstly, try and limit the number of eating occasions to about five. There’s so much food in our environments today that we’re often not great at making defined eating times. They can easily blend into each other and that makes an almost continuous cycle of eating, which isn’t healthy for your body or your teeth.
Secondly, eating at the table is so important for children; they learn by seeing, not being told, so seeing you enjoying a healthy diet is a critical step to them doing so too. Sitting down with your children as a family not only makes that connection but it’s also essential social time for a family. I can’t stress enough how valuable family time is and meals can be part of that.
Lastly, if you’re giving your child healthy nutritious foods 80% or 90% of the time, you’re doing really well. Then it’s okay to eat a sandwich with chocolate sprinkles, or to eat a candy or cookie every now and then. Again, it’s all about a balance, and we’re not about telling your children you can’t have this, this and this. We want to communicate what you can do through nutrition, not what you can’t.